The subject line of an email from a writers'
magazine I subscribe to asks:
Did you self-published a book?
A few months ago I started an online subscription to The New York Times' crossword puzzle for my iPad.
Today I received an email from The Times, advertising a special collection of Mother's Day crosswords constructed by women.
The email included this note
"We'd like to thank you for being a New York Times Crosswords solver since: 2014-02-23"
Not long ago I came across a book called "The Quotable A**hole: More than 1,200 Bitter Barbs, Cutting Comments, and Caustic Comebacks for Aspiring and Armchair A**holes Alike," compiled by Eric Gryzymowski.
It's an enjoyable book with a number of quotes I hadn't seen before, including one by a hero of mine, Fred Allen:
"I like long walks, especially when they're taken by people who annoy me."
But there's one thing about the book that puzzles me.
Page 132, for example, includes a quote by Yogi Berra, who is accurately described as an "American baseball manager and former player."
Also featured on that page is Dorothy Parker, who is quite properly (if incompletely) called an "American poet."
At the bottom of the page is a quote from Bob Hope, who is not given any description at all. This seems reasonable, considering he was the type of guy who in life was apt to be described as "somebody who needs no instruction."
But right above him is a line from another of my favorites, Henny Youngman.
Henny is described as a "British comedian."
I did some checking on the Internet and found that Henny was indeed born in England, and his family moved to the U.S. with his family when he was young. I can't seem to find out exactly how young, though the Internet Movie Database says he was a baby at the time.
But I'd hardly call him a "British comedian." "British-American comedian," maybe.
Meanwhile, below him is a guy who was born Leslie Townes Hope in England and came to the U.S. with his family when he was maybe 4 or 5. So why isn't he described as a "British comedian"?
I suppose that if I had the time and cared that much, I could track down Mr. Gryzymowski’s e-mail address and ask him about this.
But I don't want to be an a**hole.
If you're a regular customer here, you might recall that some weeks ago one of my posts dealt in part with what I referred to as "the death of Danny Dollar."
Danny Dollar was the number you could call here in town to get the time and temperature. He got that name when he was introduced about 50 years ago by the local bank that originally sponsored the service, and that's how my family has always referred to him.
But when I tried calling him recently, I kept getting the voice mail of the plumbing company that had been sponsoring Danny, which led me to believe that Danny was no more, a victim of the Internet/smartphone age.
But the other day someone I know called the number and found out that Danny -- Praise be! -- is not quite dead yet.
I just tried the number myself and was told that Danny "is expected to be restored in a week."
Although this gives me hope -- and of course I'd like to thank all you loyal readers, who obviously have been pulling for Danny just as earnestly as hundreds of audiences over the years have pushed for the survival of Tinker Bell -- I find myself feeling a sense of (totally unreasonable, I'm sure) foreboding.
I think it's that word "restored" that bothers me.
It makes me think that somewhere a modern Dr. Frankenstein is trying to resuscitate Danny with the help of the doctor's faithful servant, Igor.
Kind of like a previous project the two of them were involved in.
And we all remember how well that worked out.
But maybe I'm worrying too much.
Let's all just keep our fingers crossed.
And don't stop believing!
This week I saw a TV commercial for a new movie.
It's a comedy about a big wedding that involves a dysfunctional family -- a big wedding where things might not go ... hmm, what's that phrase? Oh, yes -- "exactly as planned."
I get this idea (I'm going solely on the basis of the commercial) because the snippets from the film make it clear that certain members of the family are (humorously, of course) at odds. Perhaps even violently (though in a humorous way, of course) at odds.
The cast of this movie includes Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon and Katherine Heigl.
The title of this movie is very clever.
It is "The Big Wedding."
And somehow I can't escape the thought that if, by some unheard-of fluke of nature, the script for this movie is deemed worthy of an Academy Award nomination, it will be in the category of Best Screenplay Based on a Moldy But Still Smelly Sheet of Mimeograph Paper That Was Found on Top of a 1973 Xerox Machine.
Once in a while I do a Google search for "Murphy's Craw" to see how many hits I get and what they are.
A few weeks ago I noticed something I hadn't seen before.
A site called Web Stats Domain had evaluated this blog.
I didn't understand most of the stats -- they involved mysterious words such as "backlink" and "alexa rank." To say nothing of "organic keywords."
But there was one stat that I did understand -- at least on a superficial level.
It turns out that according to Web Stats Domain, the estimated "worth" of this site, in U.S. dollars, is $351.
I've been running this blog for five and a half years, and this is all I have to show for it?
And of course I'm also wondering:
Who appraised my blog?
How did they come up with that appraisal?
Why $351 -- instead of, say, a nice round number like $350? Did the appraiser throw in an extra buck just to make me feel better?
Is there some sort of stock exchange thingy for blogs? Kind of like what the Chicago Mercantile Exchange used to have for pork belly futures?
(Which reminds me that I used to think that a famous Chicago author would have been a natural for that kind of trading -- doesn't "Saul Bellow's Sow Bellies" have a nice ring to it?)
And all of this leads to another question:
Is there someone out there who's been buying up blogs?
Kind of like the way Warren Buffett has been buying up newspapers? (In my case, Warren could probably buy "Murphy's Craw" for a song -- probably even for the first five bars of "Down by the Old Mill Stream.")
I don't know how to find the answers to these questions, but if any of you folks out there can give me the merest hint of a clue, please feel free to write in.
In the meantime, as I was getting ready to write this item, I did another Google search for "Murphy's Craw" and found that another site, urlpulse, has also rated this blog.
This rating includes even more obscure terms -- among them "cache-control," "transfer-encoding" and (my favorite) "nosniff."
It also says my blog's rank in the U.S. is 12,412,065. Worldwide, it ranks 26,117,579.
Don't sugarcoat it, urlpulse.
And look at the bright (if cliched) side: I have nowhere to go but up.
But once again, there is one figure that I do understand and which leaps out at me.
According to urlpulse, the estimated worth of my blog is....
Drum roll, please....
Take that, Web Stats Domain! (And while you're at it, WSD, please notice that urlpulse threw in that extra 16 cents!)
And now I'm beginning to get excited.
Because there's obviously, in the blog-trading underground, a bidding war going on for "Murphy's Craw."
And the sky -- or at least the virtual sky -- is the limit!
Come on, Warren -- you can easily beat $728.16.
And I can easily be had.
Do I hear $12,432,946 -- and 75 cents?
(SPOILER ALERT: If you're going to be doing this year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament by mail, you shouldn't read this post. I'm sure you can find many other delightful things to read on this blog, or, if you must, elsewhere on the web....)
Perhaps one of my most memorable moments at this year's tournament occurs before the competition begins.
In the lobby outside the ballroom where the tournament is held, a researcher for Michigan Technological University is conducting a study of folks who do crossword puzzles. Four laptop computers are set at a table, and people seated there are taking a test that involves filling in the blanks of words and remembering pairs of words.
I decide to try my luck. I take two fill-in-the-blanks tests and do fairly well on them. I do only fair, at best, on the memory tests, which involve remembering pairs of words that are flashed on the screen. I suspect that part of the reason I do only fair, at best, is that I've psyched myself out; the older I get, the less I trust my memory.
At one point during the memory tests, the program crashes. I go to signal the researcher about this, but the guy to my right beats me to it -- he's having problems, too.
I eventually beg off on finishing the tests -- the researcher says I'd provided enough data already -- but as I watch the researcher help the other guy with his computer, I get the feeling I've seen him before.
Then I look at his name tag:
Then it clicks: He's been a champion on "Jeopardy!" According to the show's web site, he has amassed $213,900 and, not surprisingly, has been in the Tournament of Champions.
This is quite a moment for me because appearing on "Jeopardy!" has been on my bucket list since long before buckets were invented.
But of course I don't trust my memory, so I lean over and, in what I hope won't come across as a stage whisper, ask him if he is indeed the guy. He pleasantly confirms this, and I leave him to his computer.
So maybe my memory is quite all that bad....
The first puzzle is by Lynn Lempel, who constructs a lot of the New York Times puzzles for Mondays.
The puzzle is supposed to be easy, but it somehow gives me more trouble than the usual first tournament puzzle does. It doesn't help that my mechanical pencil's point breaks at one point (easily remedied, though) or that I write in BASE ON BALLS instead of BASES LOADED. The puzzle is called "Buzz Words," and I figured out only a few minutes ago that the second part of all the there answers is a synonym for "drunk."
Puzzle #2, "Short Breaks," is by Mike Shenk, one of those names who make me sweat a bit when I see it on a puzzle. In this case, the theme answers are phrases into which "min" or "sec" -- as in "minute or second" -- has been inserted. (BUS DRIVERS, for example, becomes "B MINUS DRIVERS.") At first I don't think I'm going to finish the puzzle -- I just hop around the grid doing what I can -- and I'm pleasantly surprised when I do finish it.
Puzzle #3, perhaps the second-hardest of the tournament, is by another feared (at least by me) name: Brendan Emmett Quigley and is called "Say What?" Once again I fill in as many fill answers as I can, hoping that the theme will occur to me, and it finally does: The theme answers all begin with the "say" sound, so that, for example, "What the Wheel of Fortune host wields at an auction?" is SAJAKHAMMER. And darned if I don't manage to finish this, too.
One new wrinkle in this year's tournament is that I have my iPad, which means I don't have to depend on the kindness of strangers (and their laptops or smartphones) to find out how well I'm doing. I can check my scores myself, and I'm pleased to see that my score is what I thought it was, and I got all the answers to the first three puzzles.
After lunch comes Puzzle #4, "Immortal Combat," by Ian Livengood. This time the theme isn't that complicated, though I figure it out after I've completed at least most of the grid: Each theme answer contains the name of a war god -- for example, FLOOD INSURANCE contains ODIN. I finish the puzzle without any problems and am confident I got everything correct.
Now comes Puzzle #5, which, each year, is informally called (hold your ears, kiddies) "the bastard puzzle." And it's by Patrick Blindauer, another fearsome puzzler, and is titled "Take Five."
Once again I'm in "you're probably not going to finish this, but get in as many answers as you can" mode. And if this is a typical Puzzle #5, chances are I'll be in pretty good company. Last year marked the first time I ever finished a Puzzle #5, which was cause for celebration until I found out I'd made a mistake.
As I soldier on, filling in what I can, I figure out the theme relatively early: The theme answers are phrases in which the vowels have been removed, so that "'Macbeth' prop" is WTCHSCLDRN -- WITCHES' CAULDRON. Even so, with five or six minutes left to go on this 30-minute puzzle, I'm still having problems with the upper left part. Then, somehow, my mental adrenaline, if there is such a thing, kicks in, especially on 31 across, "Snap, maybe." It's five letters, and I know the fourth letter has to be Y because the answer coming down is AYN as in AYN RAND. But this doesn't make sense -- a Y as the fourth letter of a five-letter clue that's not a plural?
Finally, the answer kicks in: EASY A.
And now all the other answers fall into place like a pile of dislodged logs and I check the puzzle over and I look at the clock which is almost down to two minutes -- if my puzzle is handed in under the two-minute mark, I'll get credit for only a one-minute bonus. I wave my hand frantically, but the proctor a few rows away, doesn't seem to see me.
Finally, from behind comes the great Stanley Newman, crossword puzzle editor for Newsday, who scoops up my puzzle, sees 1:59 on the clock but, bless him, gives me credit for two full minutes, taking into account the couple of seconds or more it to to get to me.
And, as I later confirm, I have, for the first time, finished AND CORRECTLY SOLVED a Puzzle #5!
The rest should be smooth sailing, right?
Puzzle #6, the last one of the day, is "Everybody Loves a Clone," by Elizabeth C. Gorski. It's a cute, simple enough theme: The theme answers are familiar phrases with the last letter of the first word repeated, so that "Wonderful chinaware contests?" is SUPERB BOWL GAMES. I finish the puzzle without much trouble.
That's the last puzzle of the day, with one more, "Puzzle #7," Sunday morning, eventually followed by the finals, in which the three top members of Divisions A, B and C compete. I'm in Division C, meaning I'm among the top 40 percent of solvers. I'd love to get into Division B, which is for the top 20 percent of solvers.
But on Sunday I outsmart myself -- and not for the first time.
Hours before I take on Puzzle #7, which is a 45-minute puzzle, I try to calculate how quickly I need to solve it to get a really decent score -- meaning, in my case, a score substantially above last year's 142.
I figure that 18 minutes ought to do it, and if my experience with New York Times Sunday puzzles (Puzzle #7 is that size) is any indication, I might be able to pull it off.
The puzzle, "The Long and the Short of It," is by Patrick Berry -- another tough constructor. (Rule of thumb: Any puzzle by anyone named Patrick is apt to be a bitch, if not an out-and-out bastard.)
I fill in the squares as quickly as I can. I have a hard time getting a handle on the theme. I also hit a huge speed bump, otherwise known as 8 Down: "Prince of Wales's motto." It's seven letters, and it comes out to be "ICH_IE_" and I'm darned if I can figure the rest of it out, though I know it must be a two-word phrase because although I don't know much German, I do know that "ICH" means "I." All righty, then, but ICH what? I figure the fourth letter might be L and the last is F because it intersects with an O in one of the horizontal theme clues whose other words are "PEAK" and "THE CHECK." So, ICH LIEF? That would make the intersecting L answer "DAL," for "Old man." Maybe "DAL" is a Hindu word for "Old man." I eventually have a flash of insight and realize that the old man is really DAD.
All righty, so this gives us "ICH DIEF." What could that possibly mean? I don't know, but I do know from looking at the clock that I'm running late, so I go with it.
As I'm on my way to the elevators to go back to my room, it hits me: "A PEAK OF THE CHECK" is really "A PEAK ON THE CHECK," a play on "A PECK ON THE CHEEK" -- the short vowel becomes a long vowel, and vice versa.
And that motto has to be "ICH DIEN," which I soon confirm on my iPad. (It means "I serve," which in this case is particularly apt: The Prince of Wales has indeed served -- served to confuse me.
So I wind up sliding to No. 166, but I also figure out that had I not blown it I would have wound up at 149, down seven points from last year.
Which prompts (not begs) the question: Is it worth trying again next year, or have I reached my level? I don't want to keep attending the tournament unless I can improve. Ah, what the heck. I'll give it one more try next year. I might even try another tournament, called Lollapuzzoola, held in the summer in Manhattan. In the meantime I can try to improve my speed.
Amid all my musings, the three tournament finalists are announced. In alphabetical order, they are Anne Erdmann (also celebrating her birthday that day), Dan Feyer and Tyler Hinman.
And this is how it all came out. (Play the Part 2 section.)
(Memo to the Prince of Wales: If you're ever in my neighborhood, don't even think about dropping by mein haus.)